Considering the fact that Shamanism can be traced all the way back to the Stone Age era, and is known as the first human ‘spiritual practice’, you would have thought that I would have (at least) heard the word ‘Shaman’ throughout my young life. That would be a ‘no’! The only spiritual discussions I ever had with my family was how I didn’t want to go to church on Sunday. I was raised Catholic. It wasn’t that I didn’t like the idea of praying to God in a church, it was that I personally couldn’t ‘feel’ anything there. I would follow along with the bible, saying all the right verses, listening to the pretty choir--and feel nothing.
For me, it was a place to go to repent our sins, look nice, and be kind to a bunch of strangers. Afterwards, I couldn’t wait to tear off my tights and dress and go find my cat.
I felt God in different ways. I would feel Him in the wind, the trees, and the rain. I felt (what I thought to be) ‘God’s love’ in the people I hugged or the animals I pet. I was forced to go to church and this went against my rebellious, free-spirited nature.
From a very young age, I was seeking something different. I alway felt a void in my chest no matter how hard I tried to adopt the ‘beliefs’ I was taught. I wanted to feel what everyone else felt. I wanted to be normal. I wanted desperately to be that 'good little girl' and pray nice like the others.
Something was missing in church for me, but when I slept in my backyard under the stars...there He was. I felt my God in the ‘energy’ of nature. I felt God with my hands in the grass and my face to the sky.
Feeling different and lonely was the norm when I was little. To make matter worse, my world was full of shadows and spirits. Not only did I not fit in at church, I felt down right crazy most days.
I didn’t understand why. Why did I have to see those things? Why did I see spirits standing at the foot of my bed? Why was I awoken in the middle of the night only to look out my window and see a lady dressed in Pilgrim clothing walking across my front yard? Was she a ghost too?
Everything felt dark and scary when I was growing up. During this time, I stopped feeling God, or anything at all.
Suddenly, though, in my late teens my life took an unexpected twist and everything changed.
This is when my awakening began.
I was 19.
In 1993, I abruptly left my abusive boyfriend and fled South. I grew up in Massachusetts and chose a college 14 hours away down in Radford, VA. I knew I would die if I stayed with with my ex-boyfriend.
This was my third attempt at college life. Just like in Goldilocks, the first college was too big, the second was too small, and the third one was just right! I chose to major in English and minored in Psychology.
Coming from the Boston area, I never thought in a million years that I would meet a ‘Shaman’ in Virginia AND that he would be my favorite English teacher…ever. This tall, energetic man was one that you might call ‘in touch’ with spirit. He cut his own hair without looking in a mirror, slept in his office, or a tent near the college campus and oozed with enthusiasm. Often, he just went with it in class--always igniting contagious excitement with his totally random discussions. And, I LOVED it! He encouraged me to write about my pain and pushed me to be a writer without boundaries.
One day, he invited me to a Shamanic drumming out of the blue. Shamanic, Shamanism, Shama, what? What in dear God was that all about?? But, there was no question; I was going to find out.
Thanks to my father, I was a seeker from birth, always curious, always questioning EVERYTHING. I ended up going to this intriguing ‘drumming’ with a friend of mine at a small house on campus that evening.
Once everyone arrived, I remember my English teacher (and some of the other students) thanked the spirits in the house for allowing us to be there, and then the manic drumming began. I felt right at home once the ‘spirit’ talk began. After all, FINALLY, someone was acknowledging the ghosts that I had seen (and heard) most of my life.
My English teacher spoke as the drumming reached a high-pitched rhythm. He told us to imagine a place in the earth to go through to the ‘underworld’. It could be a tree, body of water, or even a hole in the ground. I was nervous, unsure of what was happening, but I closed my eyes and let the drumming take me.
Instantly, I saw myself in another realm. I went through a tree to the underground and landed in soft grass next to a stream/lake. To this day, this is still my ‘underworld’, alternate realm that I go to on my Shamanic journeys. I met one of my power animals during this first Shamanic journey, the raccoon. I also met Sasha. She is an angel Spirit guide of mine. She led me deeper into this mysterious, but beautiful underworld. While exploring this wondrous, alternate realm I could still hear the drumming faintly in the background. I was enjoying this ‘journey’.
Suddenly, my Soul impulsively jumped into the current of a large, raging lake and sunk rapidly to the bottom. Black snakes began to choke me as I fought furiously to get back to the surface of the water. I couldn’t breathe. I was drowning. I fought for my life in that black water.
In that lake, I experienced the symbolic violence that was my abusive life at the time.
After what felt like hours, I somehow managed to jump out of the cold lake just as the drumming came to a climax. Then, we were all instructed to go back through the hole we came from and back into our human, physical bodies.
Instantly, I felt my Spirit returning to the over-crowded room full of college kids. Wiping sweat from my upper lip, I was ‘back’. But, back from what? What WAS that? What the hell just happened?!
What was this Shamanic drumming supposed to teach us? That life can be heaven AND hell? I had so many questions racing through my mind. It was like the force of a hurricane wind. But, this wind was good.
I was amped up. High from my first journey. It was scary, but fucking awesome too. It almost felt like I had gone back ‘home’ for a while. I had felt so alone my whole life, but in the spirit world I could be myself. Exactly myself...without judgement. Oh, how cool. I was hooked.
Then, I took one look at my friend and my heart broke. My friend did not have a miraculous, healing, and insightful journey like me. She was pale, wide-eyed, and having trouble breathing. She yanked on my arm and said we had to get out of there ASAP.
Just as I was about to stand up and leave, my free-spirited English teacher started to ask all of us about our Shamanic journeys. I sat back down. I was fascinated by what others had to say even though I knew my friend was struggling beside me. I grabbed her hand and squeezed, whispering that we could go. She quickly shook her head and told me that we could stay a bit longer. I think she wanted to see if anyone else had experienced her frightening symptoms.
People began saying a few words about their individual journeys. Everyone sounded casual and unbothered by what they had seen and heard on their journeys. They gave brief, 2 to 3 minute descriptions.
And, then it was my turn. For fifteen minutes, I described in vivid detail my first Shamanic journey. All eyes were on me just staring and silent. Normally, I was terrified to speak in front of large groups of my peers. But, it was not just “I” that spoke about my journey. I realized that my explanation of what had just transpired was not a small deal. Something was speaking through me. I was ‘channeling’ Spirit, but completely unaware of what, or who, or even why this was happening. And, my ability to just ‘go’ on this meditative journey was like second nature to me. It was easy. Too easy. I didn’t even try, I just went.
Finally, I turned to my friend and she was staring at me with large, blank eyes. She started to tell the group about her troubling journey, but could barely speak. Something scared her and she was frozen in fear. With shaky hands she described a feeling that felt like somebody was pressing down on her solar plexus. She said that she felt a large hand choking her while crushing her chest the entire time. And, I felt horrible. How could I have put my friend through this?
At that time, I did not know that energy work could enhance what was already going on inside of a person. Energy healing tends to go to the core and can bring our deepest fears to the forefront. This is why it is SO IMPORTANT NOT to work on someone if they are in an ‘acute’ state of mental or physical distress. Keeping a client safe is the number one rule when we offer Shamanic healing.
If I ‘look’ at someone’s energy and it is too dark, or too sick, I back off. I wait patiently for my client to feel well enough to have a session.
In this circumstance, my friend was not doing well prior to attending the Shamanic drumming. She didn’t really want to go. We should have honored this feeling and listened to our intuition. Instead, we had no idea what we were getting into because this was our first time. I had no idea that a Shamanic journey could actually make people feel worse if there is serious unhealed trauma or negative spirits/energies attached to that person.
Today, decades later, I can look back and know that my friend had a spirit possessing her in that moment. It’s as if she was familiar with this toxic energy and it triggered her into a state of shock. Back then, though, I was so inexperienced and unprepared. I had no idea how to help my friend with the horrific pain and discomfort that was evoked during her journey to the underworld. I didn’t know how to keep her safe. Or even that Shamanic journeying could be dangerous. So, I just grabbed her hand and we left the house. We didn’t speak of that night again. In fact, it was one of the last times I ever saw her.
What I learned, and why I am sharing this, is that Shamanic Healing needs to be practiced safely. It needs to be practiced with a heightened awareness that sometimes it can bring painful physical, spiritual, and emotional energy to the surface. Helping our clients understand that this type of healing work is not always about light, love, and sugar plum fairies is very important!
Shamanism encourages the individual to look at things that they may never have addressed in the entire life. Shamanism can really stir things up. I know it has for me, but it can also promote profound healing in your life.
Shortly after my first Shamanic Journey, I got sick. I mean REALLY sick. I was flown home to meet with an Acupuncturist that turned out to be the most powerful Shaman on the East Coast. I ended up sharing my first Shamanic experience with him and he confirmed that the guides I met during that first journey would be with me for the duration of my life. We have worked together ever since. I credit him for teaching me how to heal myself--and how to safely share my Shamanic practice with others.
I've been journeying for almost 3 decades now, but I will never forget my 'first'.
~Sarah Norwood, Shamanic Soul Guide
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